2005 - Seven Secrets of Cruise Line Cuisine

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For the inexperienced or unprepared: the picture more than 10 million American Travelers will have when they cruise during the next year.

In the ever-changing culinary world, new styles of cuisine are as numerous as the magazines that review them. Take your choice: Asian-Fusion cuisine . . .Tex-Mex . . . at least one for every major nationality and most current trends. And, just when you thought you had it figured out, something new: Cruise Line Cuisine (Cruising Cuisine for Home Entertaining, http://www.cruising-cuisine.com).

You might think you know what it is: beautifully presented dishes prepared a la minute, served by knowledgeable and friendly uniformed waiters who know your tastes better than you do. That’s the picture more than 10 million American travelers will have when they cruise during the next year. And those who cruise will talk to the rest of us at cocktail parties and family get-togethers bragging about how great the food was.

It is great, but for the inexperienced or the unprepared, here are seven secrets of cruise line cuisine that you will never find in any cruise brochure:

1. “Nothing but the freshest ingredients” – Great idea if you are cooking for your 12 best friends at home, but hard to deliver on a 2,000 passenger ship somewhere in the Caribbean. What do you do on a day at sea when the chef realizes the lettuce is two days old?

2. “The highest quality” – Did you know that cruise lines budget their food costs per person per day? Think about what you would spend for four courses in any good quality restaurant and divide by four. If you are between $10 and $12.50 that’s the total of what most lines spend per person per day. Not a lot left over for caviar or foie gras.

3. “Freshly prepared” – Sure, some of the newer ships have small-capacity, prepared-on-demand restaurants. But for the rest of us sitting in that 1,000 passenger main dining room, we are seeing banquet-style food served at its best.

4. “Too much food” – The orders do tend to have more courses when there are no prices on the right side of the menu. You can moderate what you order by simply asking for a “half-portion”, or enquiring about a “tasting menu”.

5. “Too fattening” – Unfortunately, food cost dictates the type of oils used in cruise line cuisine. You can help watch the calories by looking for the “spa finder” menu or asking for sauce on the side.

6. “European-style service” – What else would you call it when 70% of the waiters are from Europe? More importantly, how do you translate the tradition of a three hour dining experience to the 90 minutes most ships allow for dinner? The answer is more forks, a less formal style, and the often-remembered tall, dark and handsome waiter.

7. “The best restaurant at sea” – In the middle of the ocean, where else are you going to go?

So what exactly is “cruise line cuisine?” Think of at least five cuisine styles with more than 500 different food items: from excellent pizza on Carnival ships to reservations-only specialty restaurants such as the Pinnacle Grill on Holland America or Todd English on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2.

It comes down to one basic element: the quality of presentation and cruise line dining styles that are divided into three generally accepted categories: contemporary – for simple and quick family style dining, to premium – more choices, longer preparation and better quality, to luxury – a choice of dining when, with whom and where you want with food prepared a-la minute paired with the world’s best wines.

Whatever your style, there is one basic truth - we don’t eat like this at home.

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